After 47 years serving paddlers on Canoe Lake in the famed Algonquin Provincial Park, the owners of The Portage Store, Sven and Donna Milgin, were hit with unexpected news. In January of 2023, Ontario Parks announced the Miglins would no longer operate the lease of the Canoe Lake Store concession—the buildings which the outfitting services and restaurant known as The Portage Store ran out of. The next 10-year lease of the buildings would instead be awarded to a larger local business, Algonquin Outfitters.
It was a decision that could have completely shuttered the Miglin’s decades-long service. Instead, it was the first stage of a new venture outside the Park boundary as The Portage Outpost.
The Portage Store’s Journey To The Portage Outpost
The awarding of the lease to Algonquin Outfitters stirred up conversation among the Park’s paddling community, mainly in regards to the consolidation of services available within Algonquin’s boundaries. But, more directly, it was a staggering blow to the Miglins, as the lease on Canoe Lake was the sole location of their business. After Ontario Parks made the announcement, The Portage Store was unsure if they would have a future in outfitting at all.
In an interview with Cottage Life, Sven Miglin shared, “I’ve got 47 years worth of history. My kids were partners in the company and now they’re looking for jobs. It’s pretty stressful.”
In the months since, the story of The Portage Store has taken a new turn.
“Initially, the sentimental aspect and the logistical one were overwhelming simultaneously,” says Vincent Ouimet, co-owner and manager. “The Portage Store was our identity.”
Twenty years ago, Ouimet met and would marry Liana Miglin, Sven and Donna’s daughter. Ouimet joined the family and eventually the family business. 13 years ago, he and Liana became largely responsible for operating the store on Canoe Lake and raised their family around the Park.
When the news of the lease hit, Ouimet explains it was an emotional process to walk through, as they faced the loss of of not only their livelihood and attachments, but also their staff—some of whom worked with them for as long as 40 years. While grieving the loss of the site they had operated for nearly half a century, they had to take on the task of breaking down shop and moving 100 canoes. Not to mention figure out what would come next.
An Outfitter’s Search For A New Home
“One of the first things that got us moving forward was realizing ‘Okay, we are all healthy,'” says Ouimet. “Then we started to dissect what really makes us happy at a fundamental level. The answer was engaging with our customers, talking canoe routes with people, and going on outings ourselves.”
With this answer in mind, the family business began searching for new locations outside the Park—one that would check as many boxes as possible when it came to fitting their needs and would allow them to run an operation that would have some semblance of what made The Portage Store special.
“The Portage Store was unique and quirky. Those kinds of places are hard to come by,” Ouimet says. On the flip side, he continues, this was an opportunity to reshuffle the deck and consider new prospects.
The Miglins would find their new location on Highway 60, at a spot referred to as the last stop before Algonquin’s West Gate. With the new site comes a new identity, and so, they are now The Portage Outpost.
Ouimet explains the new location outside the Park will have its own benefits and changes to how they approach their business. They will have a lower cost of operation, which will, in turn, provide value savings to their customers. And they will deliver canoes to access points around the Park for the first time. When it comes to the outfitting side of their business, Ouimet believes the new location will better focus their services.
On a personal level, Ouimet shares he and Liana are excited at the prospect of having a fresh canvas. “We pride ourselves on finding creative ways to serve our customers. When you are in the same place for as long as we were at The Portage Store, it becomes more about maintaining.
“Now it’s flowing naturally. It brings Liana and I back to a time 13 years ago where we have the potential to do this or that. The excitement that comes with a new location. We are bringing a hammer, nails and a bucket of paint.” Both figuratively and literally, Ouimet adds.
Paddlers Can Expect Some New And Old At The Portage Outpost
The new location will host The Portage Outpost’s guided trips and outfitting services as well as a small retail store with gear you may have forgotten at home. Portage Store regulars will also find some comforts of the old place at the new Portage Outpost, including a piece of machinery Ouimet says they couldn’t part with.
“We kept our espresso machine, because we love espresso. Is there a sound business model to have an espresso bar here?” Ouimet chuckles. “Perhaps not, but it’s a great way to keep people happy.”
Online bookings for backcountry rentals are now open on The Portage Outpost website. Ouimet expects to have outfitting packages online in the coming weeks, and they’ll be offering daily guided tours this summer. Of course, you can always stop by The Portage Outpost to talk routes over a steaming cup of espresso.
You can learn more at The Portage Outpost.